Archive for Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room

The Sunday Intertitle: Droogy Peggy

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on December 28, 2014 by dcairns

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CAPTAIN JANUARY (1924) stars Baby Peggy, already a veteran at five years old. I can’t recommend highly enough the documentary BABY PEGGY: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM, in which this survivor of the silent screen tells us about her remarkable career, as clear a case of child exploitation (and endangerment!) as you could wish to hear. Heart-warmingly — and I use the word without irony — Peggy-Jean Montgomery is today quite at peace with her movie career, able to enjoy the interest of fans and her position as former movie star, while still being quite clear-headed about the wrongs that were done her.

CAPTAIN JANUARY is a decent Peggy vehicle, in the sense that there’s lots of cuteness for us to enjoy — BP was unbelievably cute, and she has a dog, Skipper, and a pelican, Hamlet, to boot. The bird’s name is explained by the reading material Cap’n Daddy, her guardian, has selected for her education ~

Unfortunately, though ably directed by Buster Keaton associate Eddie Cline, the movie severely lacks plot and jeopardy. A villain is introduced, then dispensed with, having achieved nothing, and the happy ending remains clearly in sight through all the darkest moments, as if through a diaphanous veil. Ideally, you want the third act to throw up some situation so horrible and inescapable that the audience, despite knowing you must surely have a Happy Ever After tucked up your sleeve, can’t conceive of how you’re going to produce it. But maybe, Peggy being so cute, the scenarists didn’t have the heart to push things that far.

Astonishingly, this was remade (not so astonishingly, with Shirley Temple) — I assume it wasn’t so much the narrative they wanted as an excuse to feature a small child in oilskins, admittedly an adorable sight.But it’s Peggy’s long-johns and bowler ensemble that steals the show, transforming her for a few brief seconds into a proto-mini-droog.

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Being the adventures of a young girl whose principle interests are japes, lighthouse-keeping and Shakespeare.

Of course the inclusion in CLOCKWORK ORANGE of the novelty song “I Want to Marry a Lighthouse Keeper” is tacit acknowledgement that Kubrick had seen this and stolen the look.

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The Sunday Intertitle: Uncle Harry

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on March 3, 2013 by dcairns

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VIDEOBRARY? It is an ugly word.

HELEN’S BABIES stars a positively nubile Edward Everett Horton as a man who’s found fame as an author of a book on child-rearing, but who has no practical experience of the subject whatsoever. It’s a classic Hollywood situation, the man with book-learning but no life-skills — of course he gets landed with a couple of tiny terrors, one of whom is played by the marvelous Baby Peggy, an authentic prodigy. The movie’s situations may be somewhat hackneyed, but B.P.’s sparkle flashes through the decades and outshines even that of her co-star Clara Bow.

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B.P. or Peggy-Jean Montgomery to use her birth name, is the subject of a fascinating documentary, BABY PEGGY: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM, by Vera Iwerebor. The child star fondly and not-so-fondly relates the story of her cinematic career, providing a unique and moving insight into the silent era. Regular readers may also be interested to spot a brief appearance by the late F. Gwynplaine MacIntrye…

Iwerebor’s doc is just one  of the attractions screening at this year’s Hippodrome Festival of Silent Film in Bo’ness, which in just three years has become one of the key events in Scotland’s movie calendar, along with Glasgow and Edinburgh’s varied programmes.

This year I’m writing a piece for Bo’ness on Lubitsch’s THE OYSTER PRINCESS — in fact, I better stop writing this and start writing that. But if you’re in Scotland this month, consider the short schlep to this fair town, to see silent classics starring the likes of Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton and Gloria Swanson, with live musical accompaniment, projected in Scotland’s oldest purpose-built cinema. Check out the programme here.

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